Remembering J. David Ingles

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Thursday, October 8, 2020

In 1997, Dave Ingles takes a break from his Trains editing duties in his office at Kalmbach. Kevin P. Keefe
The greater ClassicTrains and Trains family has been reeling this week over the loss of our dear friend and colleague, J. David Ingles. As most of you likely know by now, Dave died last Sunday after a brief illness. He was in a rehabilitation facility following back surgery and fell victim to an unexpected complication. Our hearts go out to his daughter Susan, his two grandchildren, and hundreds, nay thousands more in his orbit.

I’m one of them. Dave has been part of my professional and personal life for nearly 50 years, ever since I met him when I reported for my first job in the Sales Department at Kalmbach on August 12, 1974. We didn’t work together directly then, but we became fast friends.

Thirteen years later that friendship proved to be a blessing when Dave plucked me out of the newsroom of the Milwaukee Sentinel and gave me a job at Trains magazine. With that began another 29 years of association with one of the best journalists I ever met.

How do you ever thank someone adequately for giving you your dream job? Well, I tried a couple of years ago when, in this same space, I wrote a blog called “J.D.I. Has Left the Building.” I tried to summarize in 1,000 words what the guy meant to me — an impossible task, to be sure. But it was the occasion of his retirement from Kalmbach, and I wanted to say some things to him directly, not put them on the shelf for an obituary we assumed was a long way off. 

So, what did Dave think of it? He didn’t say. Oh, maybe he said “nice job,” but not much more than that. J.D.I. was self-effacing, uncomfortable with heaps of praise.

'J.D.I.' poses in the cab of the GP38 he designated, after hours of number-crunching, as the 'All-American Diesel' for a 1982 Trains article. Chessie System
Now, in this sad moment, he deserves every bit of the praise coming his way. For Dave was, quite simply, one in a million. Meticulous as an editor, generous as a boss, supportive as a mentor, he had a “whatever it takes” attitude I always attributed to his early days in daily newspapering. Maybe that’s one reason we hit it off so well — we’d both grown up in the chaos of a city room, trying to write or edit amid the cacophony of voices just a few feet away and the clatter of nearby wire machines. For a time, we were the only ones at Kalmbach with that shared experience.

There are so many things I want to say about J.D.I. I mentioned his prowess as an editor. The guy was brilliant with a batch of raw copy. And there was nothing rawer, I fear, than some of the stuff I wrote when I first began working for him. At first his barrage of edits really set me back, left me a bit dejected, until I got over myself later and figured out what I could learn from him. That’s what great editors do for writers.

His generosity extended to both work and pleasure. At first, I was surprised at how often Dave allowed his associate editor to take the plum assignment. There were so many trips — business-car rides, press junkets, rare-mileage trips — where I would pinch myself and say, “Why didn’t Ingles take this for himself?” But there was plenty to go around. Like all good leaders, he realized his subordinates’ success was also his success.

His generosity didn’t stop at the office. Dave and his wife Carol (who died in 2018) invited me to share in their season tickets at Milwaukee County Stadium in October 1982 when the Brewers beat the California Angels for the American League pennant, then days later got me another seat at the World Series, in which Milwaukee played Dave’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Years later, they bought tickets for my 16-year-old son Barry and me to see legendary guitarist Les Paul perform in a fundraising concert in Waukesha. Dave and Carol knew Barry had started guitar lessons and thought he’d get some inspiration from a master. He did. Their kindness was deeply appreciated.

I said Dave was “meticulous.” Was there anything more meticulous than his outlandish but wildly popular attempt to identify the “All-American Diesel”? Many of you will recall the story. It appeared in the November 1982 issue of Trains, part of the magazine’s long-running Motive Power Survey, in which Dave crunched thousands of numbers — roster lists, horsepower, prime movers, traction motors, service mileage, you name it — to arrive at the mythical “average” diesel, Baltimore & Ohio GP38 No. 3802.

Chessie System soon canonized the Geep by putting a plaque on it. Dave was there for the ceremony. The portrait of J.D.I. in the cab of “his” GP38 might be my favorite photo of him. CSX later deeded the unit to the B&O Railroad Museum. 

Having just enjoyed a lunch at a favorite local eatery, Classic Trains Editor Rob McGonigal, retired Vice President, Editorial Kevin Keefe, and Classic Trains Contributing Editor Dave Ingles are all smiles on December 23, 2019. Robert S. McGonigal collection
Dave capped off his long career at Trains with 19 years as senior editor at Classic Trains, which we spun off from the main magazine in 2000. Editor Rob McGonigal and Dave were the perfect match, breathing fresh life into the glorious “classic era” of railroading, basically the 1920s through the 1970s. The job gave J.D.I. a chance to play to the formidable strengths of what by that time was more than a quarter-century of covering railroading.

I’d like to think these past two decades years were especially satisfying to Dave, who contributed so much to making Classic a success. With all three of us getting older and frequently looking back, we began a tradition of occasional long lunches, usually down the street at the Chancery, one of a small chain of pubs in the Milwaukee area. There we would harangue or laugh about the state of the world, whether it was railroading, or railfans, or things at the office. As I eased into retirement, these lunches became increasingly precious.

Alas, the Chancery in Waukesha went out of business in 2019. But they kept one more open for a while, 40 miles away down in Pleasant Prairie, just off I-94. Its days were numbered, though, so late last year, on December 23, J.D.I. and R.S.M. and K.P.K. gathered for one more round of burgers and beer cheese soup, one more chance to dredge up the old stories and manufacture some new ones. We marked the occasion by pressing a woman in the parking lot to get a photo of us in front of the restaurant. 

At that point, we agreed we’d have to find a new place to meet, a new place to do our thing. But we never got the chance. Family and work issues and, mostly, Covid-19 got in the way. Last week, in phone and email conversations among the three of us, we vowed to remedy that soon. Then Dave left us, suddenly, shockingly.

There’s some comfort, though, in the very profession that brought us together. Just inches away from this keyboard, spread out across nearly 10 feet of shelving, is everything Dave ever wrote for Trains and Classic Trains, bound in red hardcover. It’s all there: “Christine and the Mongeese.” “My Kind of Fan Trip.” “So You Want to be An Engineer.” “The View from Tower 55.” So many classics — the legacy of a man I’ll follow the rest of my life. 

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